Are you a fan of Downton Abbey like I am? Are you fascinated with that time period and the opulent lifestyle of the Gilded Age? If so, this post is for you.
We’ve been pretty busy the past week. We took a two-day trip across the state to a small town on the west coast of Florida to visit some longtime friends who are now living in that area. One day after we returned to St. Augustine, we welcomed guests arriving to spend a few days with us.
While our friends were visiting, we did a little sightseeing in the historic district. One of the places we took them was Flagler College. What a wonderful place it is! All fans of beautiful architecture and/or the Gilded Age should visit St. Augustine and take a tour of Flagler College, which is partially located in one of Henry Flagler’s hotels, the beautiful Hotel Ponce de Leon. The Ponce de Leon was built in 1888 as a winter resort for the wealthy. It has a long, rich history and in 1968 it became the centerpiece of Flagler College, a private four year liberal arts institution located in the heart of historic St. Augustine.
There is a statue of Henry Flagler in front of the entry gates.
Visitors and students enter through the front gates into a beautiful open courtyard. The walkways in the courtyard form a Celtic cross to commemorate Henry Flagler’s Irish heritage. This building houses dormitories, the student dining hall, and meeting spaces for special events.
Symbolism is present throughout the design. For example, the fountain in the courtyard has 12 frogs which represent the numbers on the clock, the twelve months, and the twelve disciples. The four turtles represent the four seasons, the four directions on the compass, and the four Gospels.
The towers on each side of the building hold tanks that provided water to the hotel guests in Flagler’s time. Each one held 8000 gallons of fresh water. Flagler discovered that no matter how deep it was, an artesian well in Florida produced smelly water that was heavy in sulfur and other minerals, and thus was not suited as a water source for his luxury hotel.
Arches accentuate the Spanish Renaissance architecture of the building as do the heavy wooden doors, the iron work, and the ornate terracotta embellishments.
Entering through the double doors, one steps into the grand lobby. The grand lobby has a 68 foot domed ceiling supported by oak columns hand-carved with robed women, each one slightly different from the others.
The domed ceiling is painted with amazing detailed murals rich with symbolism.
At the rear of the lobby, up a flight of stairs , is the Grand Dining Hall where Flagler’s guests listened to non-stop live music from two groups of musicians throughout their elegant meals. The musicians played from balconies overlooking the room on opposite sides (shown below). When one group took a break, the other group immediately began playing. The walls and ceilings of this room are covered with more of the detailed murals.
There are 79 Tiffany glass windows in the dining hall. These days Flagler college students enjoy their meals in this room. Imagine spending your college years eating everyday in this elegant dining hall!
Although most of the furniture in the dining room has been replaced with reproductions since Henry Flagler’s days, 3% of the dining chairs still remain. The original chairs like the one below have a slight difference from the reproductions. The face on the back of the chair is smiling on the originals and frowning on the reproductions.
The dining room is divided into three areas separated by columns and arched Tiffany glass transom windows.
Henry Flagler had his own private entrance into the dining room. The tour guides take visitors down the hallway that still has some of the original leather carpeting showing on each side of a modern carpet runner and into the grand dining room through the private entrance. There are Tiffany windows along the hallway.
In Flagler’s day, men and women enjoyed separate leisure activities. The ladies spent most of their time indoors in the Women’s Grand Parlor, now known as the Flagler room where the college holds special events. How’s this for crown molding? And yes, that’s gold leaf.
The ceilings are painted with murals. There are Austrian crystal chandeliers with ornate medallions and the paint color is said to be the original Tiffany blue.
The parlor contains original hotel furniture, artwork, and Flagler’s personal photographs. There is also a clock containing the largest intact piece of white onyx in the Western hemisphere. The clock no longer works and can’t be repaired without removing the onyx. The onyx might break if a repair was attempted.
We really enjoyed visiting Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel. What a privilege it is for the students of Flagler College to use this incredible building on a daily basis. It makes me want to go back to college. Do you agree?
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